Over the last few months, my father has been rearing poultry. Yester I had gone to see him and found that poultry were ill. The vet had diagnosed the problem as ‘water belly’. As soon as I was told what the problem was, I went to Dr Google to learn about the disease. I can now say that I am an expert of several poultry diseases. As we were talking about the disease, my father made a statement that has stuck with me. He said that he has been getting better at this poultry rearing business with each batch of chicken. He said that this batch of chicken had been the best they had reared so far because he had learned from previous mistakes. He said that the lesson from this batch was on how to avoid ‘water-belly’ and he was sure that the mistakes they had made, would make the next batch even better. As I listened to him, I became mesmerized by these statements. All I could think was that my father clearly has a growth mindset.A growth mindset is a mindset that thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.
A couple of months ago, I was reading an article written by one of the leading African Educationist. The article was attempting to explain why young people in Silicon Valley and universities in the area succeeded in entrepreneurship / start-ups more than young people in many other areas. One of the reasons identified by this Educationist was the fact that the environment in the area promotes the essence of entrepreneurship, which is failure. Many young people are encouraged to experiment with their ideas, it helps that there are venture capitalists at hand who were willing to invest in their risky ventures. More often than not, the first ventures end up failing. However, that is the essence of the environment in Silicon Valley; the sooner you fail the better. This is at the heart of a growth mindset
Unfortunately, the education systems in many countries in Africa do not promote a growth mindset. The education systems teach young people that failure is catastrophic; if you get bad grades, that’s the end of your world. The result is that many of us grow up with a very strong fixed mindset. The end result of a fixed mindset is that individual’s plateau early and achieve less than their full potential.
What is a fixed mindset?
A fixed mindset is the opposite of a growth mindset. A fixed-mindset is constantly trying to achieve validation; the person constantly tries to prove himself, and is highly sensitive to being wrong or making a mistake. So, failure brings him doubt, demeans his character, and destroys his confidence. As a result, a person with a fixed-mindset, always feels anxious and is vulnerable to setbacks or criticisms.
A study conducted by Carol Dweck, a world-renowned Stanford University Psychologist, indicated that people with a fixed mindset are very fearful of making mistakes. In this mindset, to fail is shameful and painful. Dweck writes, “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.
In short, Dweck was saying that for those with a growth mindset, personal success is when they work their hardest to become their best; whereas for those with a fixed one, success is about establishing their superiority, pure and simple.
She went on to explain that as children, we generally start out with the growth mindset adventurous spirit . But then somewhere along the line, often in school, we are squelched. Failure is not allowed. We adopt a fixed mindset.
The African Problem
As I discussed with my father about the lessons he was picking from poultry, I have never been more proud to have him for a father. I realized that he had parented us into being citizens with a growth mindset. This conversation with him gave me hope for Africa.
You see unlike Silicon Valley, we lack venture capitalists who are willing to invest in the experiments of Africa’s youth. The African continent is harsh with very little room for failure. One small bad move and the realities of your life become a slum that foreigners see on TVs but which for Africans is a few yards away. However, in the midst of such harsh realities, my father reminded me that it’s possible to raise a new generation of leaders who are not afraid of failure. Leaders who embrace failure and learn from it. Leaders who can say that with each batch of poultry, I am closer to the most perfect batch of poultry.
Those kind of leaders can only be raised during the days of youth. The African Educationist I alluded to earlier concluded his article by saying we must create opportunities for the youth in Africa to fail and in the process develop a growth mindset. We must enable them to lose the fixed mindset. We must enable them to lose a poverty mentality that continues to hold this continent captive. In short we must work on the mindset of our youth.
At Lapid Leaders, this growth mindset is at the heart of the experiential learning that we have adopted. We have embraced new territories and help our youth to be the Lapid Leaders who can go further faster with this new mindset.